April is the cruelest month


Alan Eason stepped out of his Catonsville home yesterday morning to snap photographs of his newly bloomed daffodils - covered in snow.

"I didn't truly believe it," he said, as he finished taking pictures of a tub of snow-covered pansies.

The Baltimore region awoke to the surprising sight of snow-covered lawns and vehicles yesterday, with up to 2 inches in some areas. The temperature at Baltimore-Washington International Airport plunged from 78 degrees at 1 p.m. Saturday to 34 degrees by 7 a.m. yesterday. The abrupt drop forced Marylanders to exchange shorts and T-shirts for mittens and heavy coats, and caused anxiety for backyard gardeners and baseball fans.

"When I looked out and saw the snow, I was a little worried," said John Wilkins of White Marsh, who was getting ready to take two nephews and a niece to Camden Yards. "But we were going to go no matter what."

Baltimore fared better than some places: The Orioles played, and won, but snow forced cancellation of the Mets game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium in New York.

The grounds crew at Oriole Park wouldn't be deterred. Before sunrise, it was clearing snow off the outfield as the wind chill made the temperature feel like 6 degrees. By game time at 1: 35 p.m., the snow had vanished, although winds blowing to 40 mph buffeted fans and players.

"It's not that unusual to see some snow," head groundskeeper Paul Zwaska said. "It's all a part of opening week."

It isn't as unusual for the area to receive snow in April as it might seem, said Dewey Walston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. It happens about half the time, he said. The latest-occurring snowfall on record in Baltimore fell May 9, 1923.

Yesterday's snowfall ranged from a trace in the city to 2 inches in Bel Air. Forecasters saw it coming, Walston said, as a cold front from the west collided with warm air over the coast. "We were guessing a slushy morning, and that's about what we got," he said.

As the cold front passes through, temperatures today are expected to be back around 60 degrees, Walston said.

The cold front's arrival was dramatic. During Saturday's game at Camden Yards, the temperature on the field dropped from 75 degrees to 51 degrees in a half-hour, Zwaska said.

Heavy winds felled trees and downed power lines in the area.

During yesterday's game, the temperature climbed above 50 degrees, but the wind made it feel like 29. Fans piled on extra clothing and huddled beneath quilts.

Area plant nurseries were busy fielding calls from gardeners worried about their vegetables and flowers.

For the most part, they can relax, said Carrie Engel, greenhouse manager at Valley View Nurseries in Cockeysville.

Early spring flowers such as daffodils, pansies and tulips and early vegetables such as broccoli and lettuce can weather a cold snap fine, she said.

Although winter white coated the pastel pink of ornamental cherry trees, they shouldn't be harmed, either, she said.

"They will lose a few blossoms, but nothing major," she said.

Most fruit trees also should be all right, although the nursery took the precaution of spraying its trees with water to form a protective coating of ice. But gardeners who had been lulled by the recent warm spell and planted tomatoes and impatiens might find their plants turning black unless they covered them Saturday night, Engel said.

"They certainly got a hurting," she said.

On Saturday, as the nursery was busy ringing up sales of tomato plants and other tender flowers, the staff tried to warn customers without being condescending.

"You want to instill confidence," Engel said.

She advises gardeners to refrain from putting out tender vegetables and annuals until the last frost date, which ranges in this area from April 20 to May 15. If those plants are already in the ground, she suggests covering them with cloth or milk jugs - but not plastic sheeting - when cold weather is expected.

Although snow covered his yard and clung to the blossoms of his crab apple tree, John Sfakianoudis of Timonium wasn't about to let a brief return of winter interfere with his enjoyment of spring. He chose a few pink impatiens while shopping at Valley View yesterday morning.

Explained Sfakianoudis: "I only have weekends to do things in the garden."

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